German rider Marcel Kittel escaped the mayhem to win the first ever stage on Corsica, beating Russian sprinter Alexander Kristoff in a sprint finish.
"This is by far the greatest day in my whole life," Kittel said. "I hope I can sleep, I'm going to be pretty excited about tomorrow."
What happened behind them was far more incidental.
The decision was initially taken late on to shorten the flat stage by three kilometres (two miles) because a bus from the Orica Greenedge team was stuck on the finish line. But organizers managed to move the colossal vehicle just in time.
"This was a really unfortunate situation," Greenedge sporting director Matt White said. "The bus was led under the finish gantry, and we took it for granted that there was enough clearance."
Kittel was lucky to avoid the crash to win the flat 213-kilometre trek from Porto Vecchio to Bastia in just under 5 hours. Kristoff and third-place Danny van Poppel clocked the same time.
"It feels like I have gold on my shoulders," Kittel said about wearing the yellow jersey. "I didn't know about the bus. I'm glad they were able to move it."
Because of the unforeseen circumstances, all 198 riders got the same time.
"We would've preferred a nice finish like the one we'd planned. But in exceptional situations, you have to take exceptional decisions," race events director Jean-Francois Pescheux said by telephone. "We're not going to stop the riders, and ask (them) what decision we should take."
Kittel would have faced stiffer competition if more than a dozen riders hadn't fallen close to the end, among them two-time former champion Alberto Contador and sprinter Peter Sagan. They got back up, with Contador's left shoulder cut and bruised.
"I knew that Mark and Andre (Greipel) were no longer in contention and it was a good chance for us," said Kittel, who also finished the day with the best sprinter's green jersey.
British sprinter Mark Cavendish was stuck behind those who fell and could not challenge for his 24th stage win on a day he was hoping to wear the prestigious yellow jersey for the first time.
"I'm lucky I didn't come down," Cavendish said. "What caused the problems was changing the finish. Like, we heard on the radio with literally 5K to go that the sprint was in 2k and then a K (kilometre) later, they were like 'No, it's at the finish.' It's just carnage."
Francaise Des Jeux team manager Marc Madiot was furious.
"The president of the (race jury) didn't do his job," he said. "When we (managers, riders) make a mistake we get a fine. Well, he should get a huge fine."
Cavendish's Omega Pharma-Quick Step teammate Tony Martin fell and was taken to hospital after losing consciousness, while Contador had a bad day, too.
Returning from a doping ban which also cost him his 2010 Tour victory, the Spaniard grimaced in pain as he crossed the line.
"I am fine," Contador said through a translator. "Someone didn't brake in front of me."
Johnny Hoogerland, who sustained cuts to his legs on the 2011 Tour after being hit by a Tour car, was sent tumbling after hitting a crash barrier near the end. He was helped back onto his bike and able to continue.
Last year's Giro d'Italia winner, Victoria's Ryder Hesjedal, was caught in another crash moments later but continued.
David Veilleux of Cap-Rouge, Que., finshed in 84th with Hesjedal seven back in 91st. Svein Tuft from Langley, B.C., finished the first stage 167th.
With the finish line in sight and as the nerves jangled, some 20 riders hit the tarmac.
"It was just a complete disaster," Greipel said.
It proved to be an incident-packed day from the outset.
Before the stage, French Sports Minister Valerie Fourneyron met with a delegation of riders unhappy about pre-race media reports that they thought focused too heavily on doping stories.
The day before, Lance Armstrong hogged headlines when he told Le Monde he couldn't have won his seven Tours without doping.
Once the race began, tour favourite Chris Froome stopped to get a new rear wheel early on and stopped for a second time to get a new bike.
"It's a reminder that this tour is about so much more than just having the form," Froome said. "It's about staying out of trouble."
Sunday's second stage is shorter but features four climbs along the 156-kilometre (97-mile) ride from Bastia to Ajaccio.Suggest a correction